Many seafood firms in the Mekong Delta have reportedly bullied catfish farmers by demanding to buy at low prices, by delaying payments or by abruptly breaking and/or breaching contracts thanks to certain adroitly-crafted escape clauses.
Lac Hong Thang, a farmer in Phu Tan District, said that C.D, a Dong Thap-based seafood company, had signed a contract to buy from him 80 tonnes of catfish at the price of VND28,400 (USD1.37) per kg.
“But they suddenly lowered the price to VND26,500 (around USD1) per kg without my agreement,” he said. “This caused a loss of VND200 million (USD9,700).”
Earlier on May 15, C.D refused to take the 210 tonnes of catfish it had contracted with Nguyen Huu Nguyen in Chau Phu District, who agreed to sell them at VND27,600 (USD1.33) per kg.
“They [the firm] said my fish contained antibiotics and refused to buy them although other companies didn’t find any,” he said.
Last year, Nguyen and some other farmers have sold catfish to C.D, under a contract that demands payment within 30 days.
But not until four months later did the farmers get their money, they said. On May 30, Pham Van Tac, a farmer in Phu Tan District, sold 100 tonnes of catfish to company V.N.
Under the contract, the company would pay VND522 million (USD25,300), or 22 percent of the fish’s total value, and clear the remaining within 7 days.
But until now, Tac has received only VND240 million (USD11,650).
Safety valve: I impose, I inspect, I decide
Many lawyers said farmers suffer as most of the contracts are self-imposed by the seafood firms without any discussion with fishermen.
“There were no penalty clauses in case the companies break contracts, and the firms have also taken advantage of this to delay their payments,” Lu Hi, deputy head of An Giang province’s Bar Association, said.
Phan Ngoc Minh, director of the An Giang Centre for Legal Aid, said the bullying enterprises always install a safety valve stating that they have the right to refuse to buy if their medical checks find the fish to contain antibiotics and other prohibited chemicals.
As the firms performed the checks by themselves, they could easily say the fish contain diseases to force farmers to lower the price, he said.
“Farmers must state clearly in the contract that any medical checks must be performed by a third party to ensure fairness and objectiveness,” he advised.
Le Chi Binh, deputy chairman of the Seafood Processing Association, said farmers will accept the disadvantages in the contract as long as they can sell their fish.
“If they demand to have a fully legal contract, no firms would buy their products,” he sadly informed.